British Beauties … Cars that is

Mini Cooper racing in the wetThis is a guest post by Dilpreet Bhagrath on behalf of Fulton Leasing – a professional car leasing and contract hire company with the best leasing deals on all manufacturers and models, including Audi, BMW and Land Rover leasing.

There are many impressive British cars that do our country proud. Not only do these cars look effortlessly stylish and sleek, but they are also high-performing vehicles guaranteed to put the fun back into driving.

Land Rover is an iconic British brand as it not only represents power and style, but also has a strong presence on and off-road. It is a brand with such a unique build and design, and inevitably turns heads. Land Rover leasing is a popular option as it allows drivers to get behind the wheel of this innovative vehicle, without having to worry about depreciation of its value as you would with buying. Leasers can also work their way through the Land Rover family, as they can change their car every time their contract finishes. Range Rover leasing and Range Rover Sport lease deals are also a hit as these trendy cars exude a strong feeling of luxury.

Another car manufacturer which is engrained in the British automotive industry is the opposite of the large, domineering Land Rover – the humble Mini Cooper. Made by the British Motor Corporation, the Mini is a front-wheel drive with great road handling. Initially, it was put into production due to a fuel shortage which deterred people away from bigger cars. However, its popularity and success has grown immensely since then. The Mini Sports models have also experienced great success in rallying.

When discussing iconic and memorable British cars, there is one car manufacturer which cannot go unmentioned. This car has appeared in one of the most famous action movies in the world. I’m talking about Aston Martin, of course. Aston Martin’s collection of supercars have appeared in mega-hit movie James Bond. It is therefore instantly recognisable and associated with power and luxury. The Aston Martin DB9 is a particularly desirable supercar due to the exceptional adrenaline-satisfying drive it provides. Unfortunately, the hefty price tag which it comes with means the closest many of us will get to this British beauty is in the next James Bond flick.

Although many believe that other countries are further ahead in the automotive industry, it is important not to write-off our country too hastily as we have many British beauties that everyone would love to get their hands on.

What cars do you think do Britain proud? Jaguar? McLaren? The classic Mini? Let us know your favourite in the comments section.

Star Wars Stormtrooper… out of copyright?

Copyright law is an odd thing, and it seems it just got a bit more odd here in the UK. Take the iconic Star Wars films, for instance. These are protected under copyright until “70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last principal director, author or composer dies” (reference). George Lucas is still very much with us, so it’s going to be quite some time before they enter the public domain.

StormtrooperBut what about the costumes worn by the Stormtroopers in the same films? You would think they are protected to the same degree, but a recent ruling by the UK’s Supreme Court cast a different light on this: Stormtrooper costumes are industrial objects, not works of art, and therefore only subject to a period of fifteen years’ copyright protection. I think the decision stems from the fact that the costumes allow work to be done… admittedly it’s the work of creating a movie, but they’re still just tools of a particular industry.

The reason all this came about is that the prop designer who made the original Stormtrooper armour has been selling replicas cast from the original moulds. Lucasfilm, understandably, saw this as a violation of copyright and began legal proceedings. As copyright law is different in the US, the Supreme Court did rule that Lucasfilm’s copyright has been violated there, but not according the UK law. So, in the UK at least, Stormtrooper costumes are out of copyright and the replicas can legally be sold without Lucasfilm’s permission.

While that will most likely represent a significant loss of income for Lucasfilm, I think it brings benefits to the general consumer… you and I. Once you enter the open market, innovation and price drops soon follow. I’m not quite sure how the Stormtrooper costume can be innovated upon, but you never know.

There’s more

Some cases in point would be Frank L Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories or Lewis Carroll’s The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. All of these have entered the public domain after the requisite wait following the death of their authors, and there have been great new works based on all three stories. Tin Man reimagined what the story of Oz was all about, Sherlock on the BBC casts a modern light on the classic Holmes universe, and the there have been recent movie and television re-imaginings of Alice in Wonderland. These all add to the tapestry of material surrounding these stories.

But Stormtroopers?

OK, I’m still not sure how that will apply to Stormtrooper costumes as I’m sure the concept of the Stormtroopers will still be owned by Lucasfilm. But the point I”m trying to make is that when something passes out of copyright protection, it opens the way for people to build upon it and have fun with it. Sure, copyright is still important as it protects people’s rights to work they have carried out and the associated income, but eventually these things pass.

What do you think about this issue? Is it a good thing that the (UK) copyright has expired on Stormtrooper costumes? Will it open the floodgates for unlicensed replica props from other movies or TV shows? Should the Supreme Court have ruled that the costumes are “sculptures” and therefore still under copyright? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Post image used under creative commons. Originally by Aritee.

Get 15% off geeky gear during February

If you’ve been reading Geek-Speak for a while you’ll have picked up on several posts about t-shirts. I’m hooked on printed tees, and have several with definite geeky themes.

Last week I heard about 604Republic, a new (to me) addition to the geek-tee scene who have been trading since September 2010. Given that it’s a fairly new company, it’s understandable that there isn’t a huge collection of designs on there yet, but what is there is genius. My particular favourites are the duelling Tyrannosaurs and the t-shirt with the slogan, “Four Five out of five people are zombies”.

If you’re into gaming, Star Wars, dinosaurs, zombies, or more, 604Republic could very well have your next favourite t-shirt in stock. There’s even a nice remake of the World War 2 “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster.

There’s more though… For the month of February, if you use the promo code “GEEKSPEAK” at the checkout you will receive 15% off your order. How good is that?

Head on over to 604Republic, have a look around, and don’t forget to use the promo code to get a discount. 604Republic is based in Canada, and ships to most countries worldwide.

More one-day t-shirts with Qwertee.com

Blimey, was it really March when I wrote about Tee Fury? If you’ve checked out Tee Fury but have been a bit frustrated at buying in dollars and waiting for your new t-shirt to arrive from across the pond, help is at hand. Qwertee is a similar one-day t-shirt site based in the UK/Republic of Ireland… which means you don’t have to try and work out the exchange rate for dollars, and you’ll get your tee more quickly.

If you’ve got this far and you’re still wondering, “what’s a one-day t-shirt”, let me explain. Stick around too, because I’ll be giving you a discount code to use on Qwertee at the end of this post.

One-day t-shirts?

Qwertee is very simple: they sell one t-shirt design, for one day only. Every day at 11pm they put a new tee on sale for twenty four hours, or less if it sells out quickly. After 24 hours the tees are gone, so if you see one you like you need to act fast to get hold of it before it’s too late.

Qwertee works with local and international artists and designers, but rather than deciding what to print themselves it’s the Qwertee community that decides what gets printed. Artists submit designs, community members vote for what they like, and the most popular designs are printed out and put on sale for 24 hours. The artists themselves receive €1 of the £8/€9 t-shirt sale.

The tees are ringspun cotton and hand-printed in the UK and Ireland. They also come in fully degradable bags, so you don’t need to worry that the packaging is going to hang around for centuries in a landfill site. Add in the Qwertee GuaranTee, that says you can return anything you’re not happy with at Qwertee’s cost and receive a refund, and I think this just looks better and better.

Qwertee is only a few weeks old, but there have already been some great designs to rival Tee Fury. If you’re into printed t-shirts, this is definitely one to keep an eye on.

And a special offer for Geek-Speak readers

Qwertee have set up a discount for Geek-Speak readers. Simply enter “GeekSpeak” in the discount code field of the checkout and you’ll get £1 or €1 off your order. Can’t say fairer than that, can you? Just move quickly… once those tees are gone, they’re gone.

Tripod Versus The Dragon [Review]

The Edinburgh Fringe is a great melting pot of talent… some absolutely brilliant, and some woefully awful. It’s always a bit of a pot luck when you decide to go to a Fringe show, and I had that in mind when our friends invited my wife and I to go with them to “Tripod Versus The Dragon” at Assembly @ Assembly Halls. Would it be worth the price of the ticket, or would I be wishing I’d stayed at home instead?

Tripod are a three-man musical group from Australia, known for tight harmonies and a wicked sense of humour. Tripod Versus The Dragon was their celebration of the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game and sees them getting lost in their fantasy along with jazz singer Elana Stone. The storyline starts with the group setting up a D&D game, and then draws you into the fantasy as they adventure their way to a climactic finale.

Hang on, Dungeons and Dragons? Is this for normal people or just geeks? Well, of the four of us, the two women in our party have little or no geek leanings at all, and both enjoyed the show. As for the two guys… well, we’re a bit more geeky and absolutely loved it. If you have no interest in roleplaying games but just enjoy a good story and great music this will suit you fine. On the other hand, if you do know about RPGs, there’s even more to enjoy as the jokes just keep on coming.

The night was musically brilliant. Tripod are fantastic singers and Elana (playing The Dragon) just blew the audience away. There was a moment towards the end of her first song when I started to wonder whether we should applaud or just sit there in stunned silence. The applause won out, though, and it was well deserved.

I know much of the banter in the show must have been scripted, but Tripod and Elana have put much effort into making it all look very natural and fun. And the little moments when things went off the script (a dodgy jack on Gatesy’s guitar or unexpected audience participation, for example) gave little insights to the guys’ quick wit and sense of humour.

If you’re making the trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe this year, and if you want to hear some fantastic music, enjoy some great comedy, and feed your inner geek for an evening, Tripod Versus The Dragon has to be on the list of shows you see. It takes place at Assembly @ Assembly Halls (The Church of Scotland assembly building on The Mound), runs until the 29th of September, and you can book tickets from the Fringe website.

Oh, and I nearly forgot the loot! Well, it’s not really loot – you have to pay for it – but if you buy a show bag for a tenner you get a CD of some of the songs from the show and a little pouch containing some twenty-sided dice (or d20)… you know, just in case the show inspires you to try out some RPGing yourself.

Tripod Versus The Dragon is also available from iTunes.

Turn your writing into music at CodeOrgan

Codeorgan is an odd idea – take a web page and translate it into music. Yes, take a page of text like the one you’re reading and turn it into a musical composition.

How does it work? Probably best to let the Codeorgan guys explain that themselves:

The codeorgan analyses the *body* content of any web page and translates that content into music. The codeorgan uses a complex algorithm to define the key, synth style and drum pattern most appropriate to the page content.

Firstly, the codeorgan scans the page contents and removes all characters not found in the musical scale (A to G), and then analyses the remaining characters to find the most commonly used “note”. If this is an even number the page is translated into the major pentatonic scale of that particular note, it becomes minor if there is an uneven number.

Secondly, the codeorgan defines which synthesiser to use. This is based upon the total number of characters used on the webpage – there are currently 10 synthesiser effects and the one chosen is picked based upon the percentage of content.

Lastly, the codeorgan selects a drum loop based upon the ratio of characters on the page versus the number of characters that are actually musical notes – there are currently 10 different drum loops to pick from.

What’s the point? Well, I don’t think there is one. But then if you think of this as art does there have to be one? It is interesting to see how your site renders as music and with an ever-changing site, like this one, the results will be totally different from day to day.

In the end, though, Codeorgan is an interesting curiosity – not useful, but a bit of fun. Give it  a quick shot and see how your site sounds – you might be pleasantly surprised!

One-day t-shirt designs at Tee Fury

My friend bought me a t-shirt the other day… a really cool design that was perfect for a geek like me. I had never seen one like it and, it turns out, am unlikely to see another one. Why? Because that particular t-shirt was available for one day only, and never will be again.

If you like your clothing exclusive yet fun then you need to check out Tee Fury. The idea is simple – there’s a new t-shirt design every day, and each design is available for 24 hours. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. There is a wide range of styles and subjects, which means some days you’ll log on and think, “I don’t like that” but other days you’ll think, “that’s brilliant!”.

The 24 hour sale window is a clever idea – it means there’s always fresh inventory but it also means you have to think fast if you do want a particular design. There’s no denying that there’s an element of getting people to buy on impulse because, if they don’t, they might regret it tomorrow.

It would be easy to be cynical, then, but with a bit of sense you’ll end up getting some great designs pretty cheaply. Just make a deal with yourself that you’ll only buy something if it jumps off the screen at you… and not if you just think it’s pretty cool. The t-shirts themselves feel like they’re of good quality and cost $9, with shipping to the UK also starting at $9. At today’s exchange rate that means you can have a quality tee for around £12.

Rather than keep visiting Tee Fury, I’ve added it to my feed reader and, since there’s something new every day, I’d recommend you do the same. Who knows, maybe you’ll come across that killer design tomorrow!

A Theremin is not a headache cure

Elio & Theremin #2

photo credit: Pelódia

The other night I watched Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra and while there was loads there to captivate me one thing stood out… when Bill played the Theremin.

It might sound like a medicine, but the Theremin is one of the earliest electronic instruments, invented by Leon Theremin and patented by him in 1928. The Theremin consists of two antennae, one looped and one sticking straight up like an aerial and is played by simply waving your hands around near it! The looped antenna controls the volume (the closer your hand is to the loop the quieter the sound gets), and the straight antenna controls pitch (move your hand closer to raise the pitch).

Theremin were a staple of science-fiction “wobbly” sound effects, and played to great effect by Jean Michel Jarre. Amazingly, they almost have a vocal quality to them, as if singing their part rather than simply playing it.

These things seem like they’d be a nightmare to learn to play, but they really are amazing. Enjoy this TED video and marvel at this fantastic musical instrument.

Reliving Polaroid’s heyday with Poladroid

Poladroid

Digital photography is an amazing thing. The ability to take hundreds of photos without the cost of getting them developed, being able to review photos in the camera, and being able to delete the duff ones makes the digital format very powerful. But think back to simpler times, when “instant photograph” was synonymous with one thing: Polaroids.

These photos were the result of a special film which, once exposed, was spat from the camera spreading developing fluid over the picture. Wait a few minutes and your picture would magically appear before your very eyes.

I know it’s just nostalgia, but I really liked Polaroid photos. There was something incredible about watching the image develop in front of you and, of course, at the time it was really the only way to get an instant photo. Well now a little of the magic is back with Poladroid, an electronic Polaroid clone. At the moment Poladroid is available for Mac OS X with an Alpha version for Windows.

The program is very simple to use: start it up and you get a Polaroid camera on your deskop. Just drag and drop any image onto the camera and you’ll see an undeveloped Polaroid. You can grab a sample from this at any point during the development process if you see an effect you like the look of, but I tended just to leave the images to develop to their fullest extent. There’s no good reason for the length of time each image takes to process except that Polaroids used to take ages too! So whilst this could be annoying if you want an image quickly, I’m willing to let it slip because it actually helps recapture some of the old magic. After a few minutes there’s a chime, and your image is ready to view. It will have been automatically saved to the location you specify in the program’s preferences.

East Wemyss

A coastal ruin in Fife, Scotland

How do the images look, though? One of the things about Polaroids was that the colours were never quite right, and the authors of Poladroid seem to have worked hard to get the same effect. You can see the Poladroid image of a ruin I passed in East Wemyss a while ago, and the original here. I’ll admit that the original was nothing special, being taken on my iPhone, but the Poladroid has a really nice ’70s look to it. Once again, the distinctive colour temperature was another part of the magic of Polaroid.

Quite apart from the nostalgia, though, Poladroid does produce good looking images. You could use it to age a photograph, create a logo or background, or just for making your snaps look a bit more interesting. If you let your kids play with it, though, don’t forget to tell them about the good old days when you were mesmerised by instant cameras :)

Poladroid can be downloaded from the Poladroid project.

Dome Houses or Moonbase?

Dome Houses

Dome houses – practice for when we live on the moon

I’m a bit of a sucker for innovative design, especially when it comes to architecture. These dome houses, by the International Dome House Company, put me in mind of either the Hobbit or something NASA would knock out as a moonbase concept.

These dome houses are a very interesting idea… you buy polystyrene parts and put them together in whatever configuration you want. You can build a simple dome, add windows (a door would be handy), or add side sections to create a long building instead. The polystyrene acts as an insulator, meaning that the dome stays warm in winter and cool in summer. The fact that it won’t rot, rust, or attract termites are also billed as great selling points. My big worry would be that it would burst into flames at the slightest ignition source, but apparently it will only blacken without producing any toxic fumes. The material has also been treated with a fire retardant.

Should you want more than the standard designs, there’s the possibility to build two or more domes and connect them up. This is where we start to get into moonbase territory… have a dome for your living space, some for your bedrooms, games room, whatever, and connect them up in a network of discrete buildings. At least that should make it fairly easy if you want an extension.

The single dome has a diameter of 7.7m and a height of 3.85m – not quite tall enough for two floors, but certainly not feeling low. The promotional material mentions that you can have a loft in these buildings, which would be handy since it looks like there might not be too much storage space in them otherwise!

So, that’s the concept – what about the application? Well, these have been approved by the Japanese Land and Transport for home-building. I’m not sure what the official stance would be in the UK, but it’s hard to imagine this being approved over here (if anyone knows differently, please let me know!). I also have to say that, although the polystyrene is tougher than normal packing foam, I’d still be worried about someone putting a foot through it!

I really love this concept – the idea of an easy to build, easy to extend house that looks distinctive really catches my imagination. But, in practical terms, I’m afraid that’s as far as I could go. Perhaps I’m just not adventurous enough, but I can’t help thinking, “Great idea… but it’s not for me”.